Study Guide

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Family

By Gregory Maguire

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Well, the family always was bright, and brightness, as you know, decays brilliantly. Madness is the most shining way. (

Nanny could really include herself in the Thropp family mix there – she's a bit crazy, too.

"We were talking about your childhood," said Glinda.
"Well, that's it, that's all part of it. You can't divorce your particulars from politics," Elphaba said. (

Elphaba and Glinda have this conversation during their college years, but it really provides insight into Elphaba's character during her later years. A popular slogan from the women's movement in the 1960s was "the personal is political." Elphaba never separates public and private spheres, and her family is always tied up in her political activities. You could really make an argument that her family is the driving force in Elphaba's life.

"So, my dear, you don't care where he is, or what happens to him now?"
"How can you
say that?" She sat up, steaming. "I love the mad old tunnel-visioned bastard. He really believed in what he preached." (3.6.11-12)

This mixture of love and hate for family really sums up Elphaba's sentiments about her entire clan. The diction here helps demonstrate these mixed feelings. Elphaba "loves" Frex, but in the same breath she calls him a "bastard."

"I had thought you might join your sister in her seat of authority," he said, with the simple-minded hope of one whose family has been too long apart. "I know who you are, Fabala, I doubt you have much changed over the years." (

The idea that your family "knows" you best is really tried and tested in this book. Nessa and Frex often seem to peg Elphaba perfectly, but they also sometimes miss the mark with her. Frex's use of the nickname "Fabala" helps demonstrate this; he's referring to a part of Elphaba that might not really exist anymore. How do Elphaba's other name changes over the book show her identity shifts?

She sat down, wary, tired, astonished at the wealth of her own feeling for [her father]. She was full of need. But, she reminded herself, you're a grown woman. (

It's interesting that Elphaba would think that she shouldn't "need" her father now that she's an adult. There's this idea that grown-ups should be independent, but Wicked demonstrates that the reverse may be true: family might become more important with age.

And Elphaba saw that by not knowing for sure if Nessarose had been fathered by himself or by Turtle Heart, Frex had decided in some subrational way that she was the daughter of them both.... It didn't matter how crippled Nessarose was; she would always be more than Elphaba, always. She would always mean more. (

This is probably the ultimate summation of Elphaba's relationship with both her father and sister. The word choice here is really great. Nessa "means" more, and this quest for meaning in life and in herself is a huge part of Elphaba's character. We also learn about Frex's feelings for Turtle Heart here, and the bizarre love triangle that existed between him, Turtle Heart, and Melena.

She had said to him everything that she could bring herself to say. They had ganged up on her, in the claustrophobic, loving way of families, and she wanted no more of it. (

The idea of families as "claustrophobic" is really interesting. Elphaba often refers to feeling trapped, particularly when she's at Kiamo Ko. But her feelings of entrapment aren't always connected to physical places. This reference to smothering families helps emphasize how Elphaba has difficulty with people, attention, and emotions.

And now I am reduced to company I don't even want, my own squirming thorny little girl.... "Or we might take a walk in the woods today and pick the last of the winter berries." Melena was full of guilt at her lack of motherly feeling. (1.5.12-13)

Melena's roller coaster ride of motherly feeling is fascinating – and pretty realistic. We see this same sort of story repeated with Elphaba and Liir years later. Once again, Melena and Elphaba parallel one another in some very crucial ways.

"So now he sends [the shoes] to his Nessarose to keep her beautiful feet warm and dry and beautiful, and he sends them with his love."

Elphaba drove her fingers through the curlicues of shavings. There was nothing else in the box, nothing for her. (

The contrast between these two paragraphs is very cool. Morrible is summarizing Frex's letter aloud here, and her tone is pretty sarcastic. The repetition of the word "beautiful" emphasizes Morrible's mocking stance toward Frex and the entire Thropp family. In the next sentences, we break away from Morrible's recitation and get a description of Elphaba's actions. The sentences are short, and the last sentence repeats the word "nothing." Rather than spell out Elphaba's feelings, the diction, details, and sentence structure reveal her disappointment for us.

"Oh, Elphie, don't be cross," Nessarose said, looking down at her feet. "Don't ruin my small happiness with resentment, will you? He knows you don't need this kind of thing."

"Of course not," said Elphaba. "Of course I don't." (

Elphaba's reply here reveals her true state of mind. She repeats herself, as if she's trying to convince not only Nessa but herself that she doesn't "need" those shoes. Nessa's use of the word need is also interesting, since it highlights what the real problem is here: Elphaba "needing" attention and love from Frex.

"She always does this, usually to make Father irate."

"Father's not around," Elphaba reminded her sister.

"I stand in for him and I am offended," said Nessarose....

"Father's not around," said Elphaba again, in a tone that verged on the apologetic. "You needn't rush to public defense of his obsessions." (

Elphaba's tone shift at the end of this passage is intriguing. She goes from sounding fairly catty to "apologetic." So what is she apologetic for? Maybe she's sorry for provoking Nessa, or maybe she's sorry that she is so overly devoted to Frex's brand of religion.

How deeply bound by cords of family anger we all are, thought the Witch. None of us breaks free. (5.11.40)

This idea of anger binding families, as opposed to love, is a reflection of Elphaba's own emotional state. She feels angry, trapped, and guilty, and her family is at the core of these various tumultuous feelings. But is this statement universally true? Elphaba seems to think so.

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